Scripture Luke 19:1-10
When some of us think about the Bible story of Zacchaeus and the tree, we automatically hear a song in our heads. Even for me, I did not grow up in church, somehow that song made its way into my brain:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
and a wee little man was he.
He climbed up into a sycamore tree
for the Lord he wanted to see.
It’s a cute song that conveys the general story and a message too. But when even as adults, the biggest thing we remember is that Zacchaeus was short, while not incorrect, we’ve missed part of the point. We’ve missed the point that story isn’t about height but about heart.
Zacchaeus is searching. He is a tax collector, a ruler among tax collectors, which means he works with/for the Roman Empire. An empire that has occupied and oppressed Israel. It is no wonder people looked unfavorably upon tax collectors back then, they were seen as collaborating with and profiting from the oppression of the people. And Zacchaeus is searching. He is trying to see who Christ is, to see Christ. Up in a tree Zacchaeus is searching and, unbeknownst to him, someone is looking for him too. Before Zacchaeus finds Christ, Christ finds him. “Come down at once, I must stay in your home today.” Jesus invites himself over to Zacchaeus’ house and Zacchaeus receives Christ with great joy. While the people around are grumbling, because of course why is Christ going over to his house, to that house, to an unworthy house, Zacchaeus commits to transforming his life.
This story is about heart. It is about the heart of Zacchaeus. He was searching and also open and willing. He literally went out on a limb to try and get to Christ, to find what he was looking for and then responded eagerly and immediately once it found him. This story is about the heart of Zacchaeus and it is also about the heart of Christ. Christ’s own open, welcoming, and searching heart. In the midst of other people’s grumbles, Christ enthusiastically welcomed Zacchaeus. It didn’t matter who he was or what he had done, Christ sought him, Christ found him, Christ helped him know that he belongs.
This story is about heart and it offers us comfort.
Zacchaeus was searching for Christ and Christ found him first. Zacchaeus wanted to see Christ and Christ had already seen him. We are not Zacchaeus but each of us in our own way is searching. Searching for love, belonging, care, forgiveness, peace, hope. It may feel like we are lost, not knowing which way to turn, everything confusing and unfamiliar. But in the midst of our searching, we are already found. Jesus seeks us, finds us, and saves us. Jesus sees us where we are, up in a tree out on a limb, and loves us. No matter what you’ve done or what you haven’t done. No matter where you are in your faith journey or life journey. Christ sees you and loves you. Christ calls out to you and welcomes you with open arms. To quote the musical Dear Evan Hansen,
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
You will be found
Lift your head and look around
You will be found
This story brings us comfort and hope, Christ is looking for you, Christ sees you, Christ loves you. Christ’s heart welcomes you fully and openly. You will be found.
This story also offers us a challenge. It invites us to ask ourselves, What type of Christ do people see through me? It is an important question to ask because, too often, people who identify as spiritual but not religious, or who grew up in the church and then actively leave it, do so not because of Christ, but because of Christians. Because of how Christians have portrayed Christ, how they have conveyed God’s character and nature through their life. The God people experience in the world through Christians, through their family and friends and coworkers, has too often been judgmental, narrow, and harmful. So many people have experienced the exact opposite of Christ’s character in this passage. Where Christ is open and welcoming, the church has offered closed doors and rejection. To people earnestly seeking, like Zacchaeus, the church is not always a safe place to land. And, I’m not saying that you alone are capable of reversing a century of harmful, unhealthy theology, but you can be a part of reversing it for someone. We can honestly reflect on our life and ask ourselves, what Christ do people encounter through us? Do people encounter the open and welcoming heart of Christ or just a mirror of our own internal grumblings? Through our life and with our actions, we can show people that God is a God of welcome, love, and care.
Y’all, life is not easy and the good news is that our story today about a wee little man is also a story about big, open, curious, and welcoming hearts. No matter what you’re searching for, know that, like Zacchaeus, you are already found. In the midst of our searching, we are already found. Take comfort in Christ’s open heart that finds us, loves us, welcomes us, and may we be that open heart for others.